Mar 8, 2013

Trying to Understand Bronte & Twain on Austen

Charlotte Bronte
She no more, with her mind’s eye, beholds the heart of her race than each man, with bodily vision sees the heart in his heaving breast. Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete, and rather insensible ( not senseless) woman; if this is heresy- I cannot help it. - Charlotte Bronte
In Mark Twain's autobiography (which I haven't read but Adam at Roof Beam Reader quotes here) he mentions reading Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Bronte read those famous works as well as Emma. 

With Sense and Sensibility I can imagine Bronte was irritated that Marianne married Colonel Brandon (many people still are). She probably thought Marianne simply feigned her passionate feelings or would have remained true to John Willoughby's memory even though he was so terrible to her. In Emma the slow and steady realization of her love for Mr. Knightley and Harriet's love for Mr. Martin, which yielded to Emma's matchmaking, was something else she couldn't understand. But what of Pride and Prejudice?
I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone. - Mark Twain
Reading Pride and Prejudice puts a frame of mind to be amused at people's foibles and quirks. It's certainly better to laugh off an rude moment instead of letting it get to you but I think it annoyed Twain and Bronte to look at characters in this light. Austen's genius is so great that its easy to dull the sharpness of her pen; It gave us that satirical tone we so admire. It certainly wouldn't be right to judge others with the same harsh scrutiny. Patronizing others with a smirk is certainly just as bad as patronizing in the manner of Lady Catherine?
She makes me detest all her people, without reserve. Is that her intention? It is not believable. Then is it her purpose to make the reader detest her people up to the middle of the book and like them in the rest of the chapters? That could be. That would be high art. It would be worth while, too. Some day I will examine the other end of her books and see. - Mark Twain
Victorians, while known for their society's hypocrisy, had many writers who tried to use their talents to improve society: Beecher Stowe, Gaskell, Eliot to name a few. Bronte created very independent heroines who didn't think of marriage the way the Bennet's do. They made their own living. Maybe this is another reason she held the novel in contempt. Mrs. Bennet may put on a show of 'her nerves' but instead of being annoyed or using them for sport as Mr. Bennet does why not help improve her character?-- Admittedly some may argue he may have already tried. But the same may be said of each 'stray' Bennet sister. Mary with her inability to be herself, she's always trying to be a distorted ideal of what she imagines is perfect, which she neither has the talent nor understanding to be, she's just as silly as the others. Why does no one tell her she doesn't sing well? Why doesn't anyone just tell these characters and try to help them?
"For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?" - Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?” -George Eliot's Middlemarch
 --Now, the story wouldn't be the same if they had but this lack of care for each other; of character fashioning like in Alcott's Little Women to all but Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Maybe that's another reason it irritated Bronte and Twain? To whom earnestness (and emotion in former's case) was living. Tongue-in-cheek and all in good fun, yet it's safe to say compassion towards humanity is not the first thought immediately associated with Austen. Biting wit? Most definitely. She recognizes her naughty self and warns against it in Emma:
Emma could not resist. "Ah! ma'am, but there may be a difficulty. Pardon me, but you will be limited as to number -- only three at once."
Miss Bates, deceived by the mock ceremony of her manner, did not immediately catch her meaning; but, when it burst on her, it could not anger, though a slight blush showed that it could pain her.

But here's the crucial turning point: 

While the characters in the novels suffer from this lack, readers who find traits of themselves in those characters one would rather not be, correct themselves. As Virginia Woolf said:
"[Austen was] a mistress of much deeper emotion than appears on the surface. She stimulates us to supply what is not there... And she educates her readers."
Charlotte Bronte and Mark Twain missed something with Austen's novels. While they each deal with society and marriage, they have very different tones (Mansfield Park is my personal favorite). But it's her characters which are the life of the novel, some we know so well we could guess how they would react in different situations, which must be one of the reasons so many sequels and spin-offs are available. In many cases perhaps we look up to her heroines or the author herself? Novels help us understand ourselves, others, and make us try to become better people-- as well as amuse us. How many times while reading have you found yourself smile or laugh? or read a few more chapters when you really needed to stop and do such-and-such a duty?

If, dear reader,  I leave you in any doubt as to my own feelings about Austen's works simply put: who else but a Janeite would bother writing such a post?

Feb 16, 2013

I Have Been Meme


{Reading}
Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell, halfway point.
Swann's Way by Marcel Proust, into the second chapter.

{Writing}
Attempting to write a biography-- it's going very slowly but surely.
Also still working on my project of vignettes/sketches.

{Looking}
At the Persephone Books catalogue, I think I'll soon be ordering more of Dorothy Whipple's works I very much liked her writing style: understated but effective.

{Listening}
Ludovico Einaudi's Ancora
Thomas Newman's Spring

{Watching}
Finished the 2nd season of BBC's The Hour. Coincidentally the last time I filled this meme I'd been watching the 1st season. 

{Feeling}
Thankful.

{Anticipating}
The Spring! Flowers are budding around town and its so nice to see daylight lingering. The season also means more walks and chances to go see the sunset, at this moment by the time I get out of work it's twilight.

{Loving}
The day. Simple pleasures.


Feb 11, 2013

Reading Check-In: Gaskell's Mary Barton

Going Home at Dusk, by John Atkinson Grimshaw
Death and sorrows keep Mary Barton in something of a shadow and many have criticized it for being very Victorian in it's sensibilities but even the some of Elizabeth Gaskell's contemporaries wrote it would have benefited from some light. She herself was in such a dark mood after the death of her infant son due to scarlet
fever, in one of her letters she wrote:
The greater part of the first volume was written when I was obliged to lie down constantly on the sofa, and when I took refuge in the invention to exclude the memory of painful scenes which would force themselves upon my remembrance. It is no wonder then that the whole book seems to be written in the minor key;
Others deemed it was one-sided and many masters were outraged:
“Half the masters here a bitterly angry with me-- half (and the best half) are buying it to give to their work-people’s libraries."
I'm about halfway and, yes, there have been many tragedies and deaths, while they could seem unrealistic Mary Barton takes place around the 'hungry forties' when potato crops were blighted-- the working class survived on potatoes and oatmeal. We also have to bear in mind that Manchester was extremely over-populated, over a few decades the number had more than doubled and it wasn't designed to sustain so many, resulting in appalling living conditions which in turn brought disease and cholera. Her prose isn't as well-developed as by the time she writes Ruth but her warmth of feeling creates some beautiful passages:
He wondered if any in all the hurrying crowd had come from such a house of mourning. he thought they all looked joyous, and he was angry with them. But he could not, you cannot, read the lot of those who daily pass you by in the street. How do you know the wild romances of their lives; the trials, the temptations they are even now enduring, resisting, sinking under?
I've managed to avoid spoilers despite the fact I've been researching about Gaskell but one thing I have learned is she wrote it with the title of John Barton (Mary's father) it was only at her publisher's insistence that it was changed. I'm not yet convinced the portrayal of the masters is so one-sided Jem Wilson's employer seems just but there could be something pivotal I've yet to read with regards to that part of the story.

Mary's just reached the point where she makes a discovery about her vanity and feelings and I'm curious to see how everything will play out although I'm nervous about Mr. Carson who was trifling with Mary in the beginning and now is angered by her rejection of him. It's so nice to see Jem's steadiness at work and responsibility towards his family, he is a good character. John Barton hasn't been the same since his disappointment with parliament and is wasting away at the lack of employment, partly because there are few positions and he isn't hired for them because of his involvement with the union. There's a sense that all his pent-up energy is going to burst.

Feb 3, 2013

Reading Check-In: A Gaskell Mood

Right now I'm focused on non-fiction reads related to the Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell. Her writings are varied, from the industrial and gritty novels like Mary Barton and North and South.

To her charming everyday tales like Wives and Daughters and her most recognized work Cranford. I've always been drawn to her writing and interested in her life so this year I'm working on what I'm calling my Gaskell Project of really getting to know her better.

One of the books is about the Cheshire town of Knutsford, where she grew up. It's written by a local who was recognized for both her historical knowledge of it and Gaskell: Joan Leach, who passed away the day after Gaskell's bicentenary celebrations in 2010. It's filled with old photographs and some engravings.

Jenny Uglow's biography A Habit of Stories is another. I'd referenced it a great deal before but never read it through. Haven't reached too far into it-- about a quarter of the way, but I'm enjoying the details of her family and those around her. It's also lovely to see a color version of the miniature of Gaskell's Aunt Hannah Lumb, who raised her.

My favorite of the pile is The Letters of Mrs. Gaskell. It was an exciting find, published in the1960s (although there is a more recent edition) it contains a collection of her letters to friends and her daughter Marianne.What can be more charming than reading her own words and special turns of phrases? The anecdotes of her experiences and personalities of those around her.

As I read them I feel she's becoming a friend. Although it's a larger volume it's only a handful in comparison to the thousands she must have written during her lifetime. It's believed her other daughter Meta may have burnt many in a bonfire ...remind anyone else of Cassandra Austen? Others were destroyed during the World Wars. Further Letters of Mrs. Gaskell leaves some hope though, with some more which have been uncovered.

This afternoon when I checked my mail box I found Yvonne Ffrench's biography waiting. I'd previously read it at the Seattle library a few years back and am glad to have my own copy. From what I remember it's short and slightly critical of her writing, contrasting her with George Eliot. Barbara Brill's At Home with Elizabeth Gaskell and Winifred Gerin's biography are also on their way. I've seen the latter mentioned as one of the best out there so I'm curious to read it!

Nov 30, 2012

Ramblings on Howard's End by E.M. Forster

Gaugin
The only permanence in the novel is Howard’s End, a place which has a pivotal effect towards all the characters. Even though the main setting is in London, it’s presence is felt throughout. The Wilcox’s wrongfully keep the home after Mrs. Ruth Wilcox passes. She wrote a note in pencil that she wished her friend, Margaret Schlegel, to have it. Despite that none of the family want to live there and feel it’s outdated they value it as a piece of property and don’t feel right parting with it to a stranger.

The Schlegel’s are very different from the Wilcox’s.They have an appreciation for the arts and for emotions. They challenge their thoughts and look at other points of view, associating with diverse people– they want to know life beyond the norm of society. Margaret, Helen, and Tibby each are very different individuals; they have their own personalities and interests.

Margaret has a strong backbone, she’s witty, understanding and thoughtful. Helen’s wild, impulsive, and passionate. Tibby doesn’t try to impress anyone and is not worldly ambitious, he studies what he finds interesting and works very hard at it.

The Wilcox’s struggle is to stay within the norm. They suppress emotion, seeing it as a weakness and are determined to be successful in the material world. Those in the family share common characteristics, very little differentiates them from one-another.

Margaret had often wondered at the disturbance that takes place in the world’s waters when Love, who seems so tiny a pebble, slips in. Whom does love concern beyond the beloved and the lover? Yet his impact deluges a hundred shores.

What really intrigued me is how and if Margaret Schlegel could care for Mr. Henry Wilcox. The same might be said for Ruth. Was it his vulnerability, which only they saw, that was part of his attraction? The worldly comfort? or just the desire of marriage? It’s not because he’s flawed that I fail to grasp the two’s choice of husband but because their minds and spirits and so dissimilar to his.

Gaugin
Ruth and Margaret both have very sensitive souls, although Margaret’s more forward-thinking. But they both marry this man who doesn’t try to understand himself, doesn’t really have independent thoughts– just stands with what he’s been brought up to do and think. He seems imperceptive to humanity and the side of the world which Margaret really is a part of.

Helen and Mr. Wilcox were both tangled in adulterous affairs– they both crossed the boundaries of Edwardian morality but where Helen recognizes this, Mr. Wilcox refuses it. He was married to Ruth. Leonard Bast was married to Jacky. Jacky Bast was Mr. Wilcox’s mistress years ago. When he learns of Helen’s pregnancy he refuses to let her stay at Howard’s End. She has done wrong.

That he did the same thing can’t be admitted. Margaret tries to make him face his hypocrisy but he keeps it buried under unrelenting denial. He wants to portray himself as the ‘model gentleman’ and because this illusion has been broken and Margaret knows the truth it’s the end of their marriage. He doesn’t forgive himself nor anyone else, even though as humans we cannot be perfect.

Helen’s moment with Leonard might have been her way of showing him they are equals. While Mr. Wilcox sees his previous affair as degrading, he never saw Jacky as an equal. He leaves Jacky stranded without a care for her welfare. Leonard sticks by his promise to marry her and is cut off from his family. He feels responsibility. Something Helen chides Mr. Wilcox for his lack of. Especially when his information about the Porphyrion causes a lot of problems for the Basts.

Gaugin
Leonard really wants to improve himself but in the beginning he forces it too much. When he plays a bit of Grieg on the piano, it’s described as harsh and vulgar. I think Forster means Leonard doesn’t understand the piece and plays it tempestuously thinking, perhaps that he’ll feel more– convey more and forgets the nuances, the contrasts of the piece, and probably technique.

He has great fear of his own ignorance and when he first meets the Schlegels all he can do is be silent and wary. He fails to discern they wouldn’t judge him harshly but be intrigued by his eagerness.

When he goes out for his all-night walk he begins to realize that the true greatness of culture isn’t always analyzing or comparing but having those works influence his life, inspire him to transcend beyond his daily routine.

Mr. Wilcox with all of his wealth and privileges doesn’t come to this realization. But he begins to sense the imbalance of how he interprets life after he’s broken by the scandal of his son’s actions which hurry on Leonard’s end.

Done because of a belief that he must defend Helen’s honor, another erroneous assumption because it was probably Helen who seduced Leonard– but Mr. Wilcox is taken into Margaret’s wing and the ending leaves a sense that maybe he will understand. Surrounded as he is now by Margaret, Helen, and Helen’s son. Learning along with the child?

Memorable Quotes

What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives? They have never entered into mine, but into yours, we thought–Haven’t we all to struggle against life’s daily greyness, against pettiness, against mechanical cheerfulness, against suspicion? I struggle by remembering my friends; others I have known by remembering some place–some beloved place or tree–we thought you one of these.
Charles and Tibby met at Ducie Street, where the latter was staying. Their interview was short and absurd. They had nothing in common but the English language, and tried by its help to express what neither of them understood.

Nov 3, 2012

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

Maggie Tulliver breaks the mold of the ideal Victorian child, she’s impulsive, prone to accidents, has her own opinions, and is quite a contrast to her fair-haired and obedient cousin Lucy. She wants to please but pleasing her mother means being passive– she isn’t. 

In one scene after she’s chided by the dreaded Aunts about her hair, a perpetual trouble to her, she goes upstairs and cuts it. Her father lovingly calls her ‘the little wench.’ He recognizes her quickness and admires her bold ways and opinions but knows she’s restricted by the domestic expectations of her era.

I think there are stores laid up in our human nature that our understandings can make no complete inventory of. Certain strains of music affect me so strangely— I can never hear them without their changing my whole attitude of mind for a time, and if the effect would last, I might be capable of heroisms.

When she grows up and tries to suppress her passionate nature the writing begins to blossom. Maggie’s very perceptive to emotions. She wants to be loved wholeheartedly, unconditionally. The pure unwavering love of her brother Tom is the foundation she’s longed for but he’s often abrupt, cynical, or irritated by her intelligence.

Phillip Wakem’s devotion to her is like a balm to her hope but it matures into a romantic love that Maggie doesn’t reciprocate. She realizes this when she meets Stephen Guest. There’s a mutual attraction but he is engaged to her cousin Lucy.


Divided between her emotions and conscience, she feels trapped. How can she hurt Phillip and Lucy? If she marries Stephen, she will betray Lucy and deeply hurt Phillip. But her reasoning is flawed. How can her cousin Lucy’s happiness be secured by a man that doesn’t love her? 

Maggie would scorn such a marriage herself and if she looked deeper she’d realize that’s the position she’s in with Phillip. She fears deceiving and betraying Lucy but she’s doing so by wanting Stephen to continue their engagement. It’s contradictory and torments her.

If she marries Phillip, Tom will never be part of her life because there’s a deep tangled history between the Wakems and Tullivers. Tom won’t let go of a wrong oath his father pressed him to against the Wakems, he becomes hard, stubborn, and prejudiced.

He’s focused on bringing material comfort back to his family (and does a successful job of it) but is ignorant to the beauty of emotions and culture, they are suppressed and set aside– useless, like geometry and Latin from his school days, he finds them impractical. He closes his heart and his world becomes tragically narrowed.

If you were in fault ever— if you had done anything very wrong, I should be sorry for the pain it brought you; I should not want punishment to be heaped on you… You have no pity: you have no sense of your own imperfections and your own sins. It is a sin to be hard; it is not fitting for a mortal— for a Christian. You are nothing but a Pharisee… You have not even a vision of feelings by the side of which your shining virtues are mere darkness!

Worse, he doesn’t stop to think below the surface of his sister’s actions– doesn’t try to understand or comfort her, only judges. It’s not until Maggie comes with tremendous effort to save him during the the flood that he realizes his error and wakens.

Tom is presented with shadows of another side to him but they’re shapeless. What feelings were being suppressing? It’s implied he’s in love with Lucy. Was part of his wrath towards Maggie because she’d hurt Lucy?

I struggled with the idea of Stephen as Maggie’s romantic interest, his character is like a means to an end in the plot, we know so little of him. He’s witty, and handsome but reaps from people for his own happiness and thinks little of anyone else’s.

Maggie’s emotions are so fragile, teetering on the extremes. She would have been a fabulous poet and I wish she’d such an outlet to help her inner turmoil. Maybe that is part of the point Eliot tries to make?

It’s not a romantic love she needs to find fulfillment but an accepting love and a purpose. St Ogg’s is constricting, not because it’s small and in the country, but because she’s smothered by expectations for her to be ordinary.

Few appreciate her individuality. Phillip did, but his love for her became a source of anxiety because she didn’t want to hurt him. To think, how different the story could have been had Maggie a true friend who wanted nothing.

I prefer character-driven writing but had difficulty with The Mill on the Floss, it’s overall tone was a deep-rooted melancholy. The kind that permeates the novel and leaves little room for hope and whenever there was a glimmer it quickly faded.

Memorable Quotes


There was no indulgence, no fondness, such as she had imagined when she fashioned the world afresh in her own thoughts. In books people were always agreeable or tender, and delighted to do things that made one happy, and who did not show their kindness by finding fault. The world outside the books was not a happy one, Maggie felt; it seemed to be a world where people behaved the best to those they did not pretend to love, and that did not belong to them. And if life had no love in it, what else was there for Maggie?
Does not a supreme poet blend light and sound into one, calling darkness mute, and light eloquent? Something strangely powerful there was in the light of Stephen’s long gaze, for it made Maggie’s face turn towards it and look upward at it—- slowly, like a flower at the ascending brightness. And they walked unsteadily on, without feeling that they were walking—- without feeling anything but that long grave mutual gaze which has the solemnity belonging to all deep human passion. The hovering thought that they must and would renounce each other made this moment of mute confession more intense in its rapture.

Oct 6, 2012

Parade's End, by Ford Madox Ford

Parade's End is unlike anything I've read before. On so many different levels Ford Madox Ford's book is etched in my memory. It's truly a masterpiece. Weeks after I've finished, it's lingered. As I'm out for a walk my mind wanders to it.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Christopher Tietjens
It has a rich plot, there are so many nuances. The scenes are often explored from more than one point of view so you get to know the characters on a more intimate level and with each perspective you learn more about either their history or a piece of the plot left out earlier; it's non-linear.

Christopher Tietjens has the courage to say exactly what he thinks and feels under no obligation to take nonsense in the sense of gossip and society-- Let people say what they will about himself; He doesn't pretend with anyone.

He's a true gentleman, the kindest character, intelligent and noble but because of misunderstandings and the selfish motives of some contemporaries he's thought of as disreputable.

He has great inner strength and is a gentle old soul. But he is very protective of the reputation of those he loves or is under obligation to, like his wife the beautiful and brazen Sylvia. He feels it's his duty to continue in their parade of marriage.

Rebecca Hall as Sylvia Tietjens
Sylvia's determination is uncontrollable. She's 'clumsily' in love with her husband:
It was all very well to say that every one of Sylvia’s eccentricities had in view the sole aim of getting her boy’s father to return to her. No doubt they might be. He... was perfectly ready to concede that even her infidelities, notorious as they had been, might have been merely ways of calling his unfortunate brother’s attention back to her —of keeping herself in his mind.
After the marriage Christopher, finding out that he had been a mere catspaw, probably treated her pretty coldly or ignored her —maritally… And he was a pretty attractive fellow, Christopher... A regular saint and Christian martyr and all that… Enough to drive a woman wild if she had to live beside him and be ignored.
She's reckless in her love for him and doesn't know how to show it, partially because her first romance was with the brutish Drake.

She reduces herself to stratagems and with Christopher's grand breadth of knowledge she feels at a disadvantage-- something very rare for her.

Valentine Wannop has the same boldness of spirit as Sylvia but puts it to a different use. She's active in promoting woman's rights, a suffragette. She nurtures and encourages.

Adelaide Clemmens as Valentine Wannop
There's a mutual attraction between her and Christopher; They're intellectual equals. That's not to say Sylvia is less sharp or quick, but their minds are dissimilar, they think in different languages.Valentine understands his fluently.
“It was no good anymore, he said to himself. She loved him, he knew, with a deep, and unshakable passion, just as his passion for her was a devouring element that covered his whole mind as the atmosphere envelopes the earth.”
But Christopher feels he cannot divorce Sylvia, no honorable gentleman would. And he is torn between what he feels is his duty and acting for his own happiness. Admist this love triangle WWI begins and we witness the kinks of the logistics and the imagery which only a veteran could describe:
It had just announced itself, saying protestingly , ‘CAN…NON’, and its shell soaring away to an enormous height caught the reflection of the unrisen sun on its base. A shining disc, like a halo in flight… Pretty! A pretty motive for a decoration, tiny pretty planes up on a blue sky amongst shiny, flying haloes! Dragonflies amongst saints.
There are many aspects of the books I haven't even touched but I'm so grateful to Tom Stoppard for adapting it, otherwise I may not have come across this beautiful work. I'm looking forward to watching the BBC/HBO production sometime when it airs (in the US) next year.

Sep 20, 2012

Reading Check-In - Classics Club

It's a beautiful morning, there's a delicate fog and one of the trees outside my window is dotted with yellowing leaves; Autumn is arriving. I've just enjoyed a nice breakfast of Earl Grey and fresh toast with fig marmalade.

Fog Morning Effect, by  Gustave Loiseau
Before I leave for work I will sit in my chair and read a bit of my next Classic but first here's an overview of what I've read since May in the style of Jackie.

Past: The Great Gatsby and Parade's End. I've unconsciously stepped into early 20th century literature the past few months, which has been refreshing-- I've been firmly in the 19th for a long while. I'm rather infatuated with Ford Madox Ford's writing.

Present: Moby Dick. Joining in on The Moby Dick Big Read, a 136 day project. The Mill on the Floss, which I began a few months ago and set aside for Parade's End... poor George Eliot that's the second book of hers I've done that to, but don't misunderstand me I really liked Maggie Tulliver's character and the book so far! Also making my way through a collection of Sherlock Holmes.

Future: The Fifth Queen and Villette. The Autumn seems the perfect time to re-read Bronte's Villette.

Willows in Fog, Gustave Loiseau

Aug 19, 2012

More Books

My mother and I went downtown and started the day at a nice cafe with a light Organic cappuccino then meandered about the local boutiques chatting and window shopping. Of course I had to stop at the bookstore and whilst there Scoop by Evelyn Waugh caught my eye: "ingenious, satirical, extremely funny" ...a promising description, I opened to a random page and read:

After an early luncheon William went to say goodbye to his grandmother. She looked at him with doleful, mad eyes. "Going to London, eh? Well, I hardly suppose I shall be alive when you return. Wrap up warm, dear." It was eternal Winter in Mrs. Boot's sunny bedroom.

My latest books: Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida,
Waugh's Scoop, and Ford's Parade's End. Photo © Katherine Cox
I like the sound of it! Mrs. Boot seems like a character Maggie Smith would play, with perhaps a dash of Austen's Mr. Woodhouse thrown into the mix? And I happily walked out with my new purchase. I've added five more books to my collection over the few months.

Troilus and Cressida drew my attention in Masterpiece's recent Inspector Lewis episode where they mention the play. I hadn't heard of this piece by Shakespeare before and have been wanting to add something by the dear Bard of Avon to my library.

Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End is wonderfully complex. It's stimulating and next to Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, is the only other modernist work I've read. Tender is the Night and Eliot's The Mill on the Floss are my other additions (not pictured above). I'm very happy with how my little library is shaping up. 

Aug 12, 2012

Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford

Parade’s End is unlike anything I’ve read before. On so many different levels Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy is etched in my memory; It’s truly a masterpiece. Weeks after I’ve finished, it’s lingered. As I’m out for a walk my mind wanders to it.



It has a rich plot, there are so many nuances. The scenes are often explored from more than one point of view so you get to know the characters on a more intimate level and with each perspective you learn more about either their history or a piece of the plot left out earlier; it’s non-linear.


Christopher Tietjens has the courage to say exactly what he thinks and feels under no obligation to take the nonsense of gossip and society– Let people say what they will about himself; He doesn’t pretend with anyone. He’s a true gentleman, intelligent, and noble but because of misunderstandings and the selfish motives of some of his contemporaries he’s thought of as disreputable.

He’s a mathematician working in statistics for the civil service, with his good friend Vincent Macmaster. Macmaster has good intentions, he truly appreciates and admires Christopher’s friendship and talents but is swayed by a desire to build an identity which would give him recognition in the upper echelons of society. He craves it!


Tietjens sees beyond what people tell him. He’s not intimidated or awed by titles and positions. He doesn’t perform, only voicing his views when he wants to, not at dinner parties to impress but he’s bound himself in a marriage that has scarred him, particularly the realization that his child may not be his. In defense he’s coiled-in his emotions; suppressed them.
It was a sort of parade of circumspection and rightness.
He’s an old soul who feels he should live by the codes of the 18th century and is protective towards the reputation of those he loves or feels obligation to, like his wife the beautiful and brazen Sylvia. It’s his duty to continue in their parade of marriage.



Sylvia is ‘clumsily’ in love, if love is the right word sometimes it seems to be possession or guilt, her determination is uncontrollable. She’s reckless and doesn’t know how to show her love. Reducing herself to stratagems and with Christopher’s grand breadth of knowledge she feels at a disadvantage– something very rare for her.

She describes him as a lump and becomes impatient with him because either she can’t read him and what he’s thinking or she can and is infuriated at his controlled rein on his emotions. Tigerish with a manipulative edge, her one vulnerability seems to be how much she thrives on emotions and impulses. She has an inner rage towards his unerring propriety.


Valentine Wannop has the same boldness of spirit as Sylvia but puts it to a different use. She’s active in promoting woman’s rights and nurtures and encourages. There’s a mutual attraction between her and Christopher, they’re intellectual equals.

That’s not to say Sylvia is less sharp or quick, but their minds are dissimilar, they think in different languages. Valentine understands his fluently. Like Tietjens, she doesn’t play the game of society, she’s frank and genuine.


It was no good anymore, he said to himself. She loved him, he knew, with a deep, and unshakable passion, just as his passion for her was a devouring element that covered his whole mind as the atmosphere envelopes the earth.
He’s actually quite poetic in his thoughts and Valentine re-awakens his sentimentality but he is very honorable and despite his feelings holds back. Christopher can’t divorce Sylvia, no honorable gentleman would put a lady through the rigmarole of the courts and scandal.



He is torn between what he feels is his duty and acting for his own happiness. Amidst this love triangle WWI begins and we witness the kinks of the logistics and the imagery which only a veteran could describe.


Memorable Quotes

Actually, this mist was not silver, or was, perhaps, no longer silver: if you looked at it with the eye of the artist… with the exact eye! It was smirched with bars of purple, of red, of orange, delicate reflections, dark blue shadows from the upper sky where it formed drifts like snow.
Its shell soaring away to an enormous height caught the reflection of the unrisen sun on its base. A shining disc, like a halo in flight… Pretty! A pretty motive for a decoration, tiny pretty planes up on a blue sky amongst shiny, flying haloes! Dragonflies amongst saints.
He loved this country for the run of its hills, the shape of its elm trees, and the way the heather, running uphill to the skyline, meets the blue of the heavens.

Jul 23, 2012

Reading Check-In ~ Parade's End

As I settled into the first pages I wasn't sure I was going to like Ford's writing style, his use of dialogue tags seemed a little choppy, isn't that a silly thing to condemn a writer for? Well, I was berated as I found myself bound up in his vivid language.
Guernica by Pablo Picasso
Tietjens had been staring --staring with the intentness of a maddened horse-- at his, Macmaster's face! And grey! Shapeless! The nose like a pallid triangle on a bladder of lard! That was Tietjens face... He could still feel the blow, physical in the pit of his stomach! He had thought Tietjens was going mad: that he was mad. It had passed. Tietjens had assumed the mask of his indolent, insolent self.
Picasso's art passed through my mind as I read this description. We see Christopher Tietjens torn apart, reinterpreted, and what Macmaster feels, it's what I do as I look at paintings from the cubist movement: unsettled.

Tietjens is a very interesting character with his enigmatic speeches, I can't make out if they're serious or jests... I'm pretty sure he's just trying to get a reaction. He seems very grounded but isn't afraid to cross the boundaries of convention at work. His home-life is in turmoil stemming from the infidelity of his wife Sylvia, and the knowledge that his child may not be his. You get the impression there's incredible depth to him but he's restrained.

Originally I kept confusing the author's name with
Pre-Raphaelite artist Ford Madox Brown, it turns out he
was Ford Madox Ford's namesake and maternal grandfather.
I'm only into the third chapter but Parade's End's apparent themes of marriage and infidelity put me in mind of The Forsyte Saga. I have a feeling it's going to be a very thought-provoking novel.

Jul 13, 2012

Poetry and Emotions

The first time I read Keats' Ode to a Nightingale  I sensed a quiver of something... intangible. When heard it read aloud my pulse quickened and as I recited it, the words came to life. They flow so beautifully! I felt the emotions layered within the poem.

Suddenly I was restless. The buildup of having suppressed certain feelings pushed me to try to reach a dream I've harbored and have patiently waited for the right time. I believe, it's now and really hope I can set it's wheels in motion.

The poem itself has an overall impression of longing and fear. Of wanting to flourish with inspiration and anxiety of not reaching full potential. With each reading it stays fresh, there's something I've missed: how the words work with each other, other interpretations, nuances of how they reflect what was going on in Keats' life, how they relate to mine or its dissimilarities.

I think truly great poetry awakens feelings that are tucked away; Kindles a new vitality or sensibility. Which poems have struck a chord with you? 

Jun 18, 2012

Publishing History, Keats' Ode to a Nightingale


Wentworth Place
Photo © Jonathan Brennan
Spring came earlier in 1819 and flocks of birds arrived in England some weeks before they normally do. Perhaps one was the nightingale which nested near Wentworth Place and helped inspire this great poem. It's believed to be the second of the five odes Keats composed that year, written most likely in May. His friend Charles Brown recalled that:
Video © Paul Hackett

"... Keats felt a tranquil and continual joy in her song; and one morning he took his chair from the breakfast-table to the grass plot under a plum-tree, where he sat for two or three hours."

Benjamin Haydon, another friend of Keats was given a copy, he shared it with the editor of The Annals of Fine Arts and it was published in July's edition, earning Keats a small sum.

It made a second appearance in 1820 but this time in book-format along with Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and other poems.


Sources

"Ode to a Nightingale." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 June 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ode_to_a_Nightingale>.

"Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats." EnglishHistory.net. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 June 2012. <http://englishhistory.net/keats/poetry/odetoanightingale.html>.

About John Keats, a brief bio

John Keats, by Joseph Severn
Although he died at just twenty-five John Keats created what is recognized as some of the greatest Romantic poetry. His masterpieces include Ode to a Nightingale, Ode to a Grecian Urn, Lamia, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Hyperion.

He studied at Enfield and had a "brisk and winning face... a favorite with all" but was very passionate, temperamental, and protective of his younger brother George who was also at the school.

Circumstances during his childhood were volatile. His father died in a riding accident when he was eight and his grandparents took charge of Keats and his siblings when their mother hastily remarried against the wishes of the family.

When she came back into their lives a few years later she'd contracted tuberculosis. He tenderly helped, cooking her food, administering medicine, and reading to her. Keats mourned her loss with an intense and prolonged grief. But during the reconciliation her presence encouraged him in his studies and he applied himself in literature, winning all the first prizes.

When the time came to choose a career he decided on medicine and was apprenticed and later trained at Guy's Hospital in London. Keats kept in touch with his friend from Enfield, Charles Cowden Clarke, who was also his mentor. They poured over George Chapman's translation of Homer which deeply moved Keats, he knew from this point that he wanted to be a poet. Most poets were of the genteel upper class, Keats was from the working but was determined to make a living and name for himself.

Fanny Brawne
After publishing a small book of poems, he caught the interest of John Taylor, who loved to encourage emerging talent. His firm Taylor & Hessey, publishers of London Magazine decided to pay him in advance against future works. Keats began writing Endymion with a mixture of confidence and trepidation of the high expectations he'd set for himself. But when he finished its third part was resigned


"All the good I expect from my employment this summer is the fruit of Experience which I hope to gather in my next Poem."


The critics were harsh and insulting. But it was during this time that he also met Fanny Brawne, who he fell in love with. The romance must have soothed his heart as his younger brother Tom had also succumbed to consumption and by now the symptoms were looming upon Keats' own health. But it also tormented it-- he had nothing to offer her. In a last attempt to help improve his health his friends brought him to Italy where it was hoped the warm weather would prolong his life and ease his pain.

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

Sources

Hebron, Stephen. The British Library Writers' Lives: John Keats.. s.l.: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.

"John Keats (1795-1821) : short biography." Adnax Publications. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 June 2012. <http://www.adnax.com/biogs/jk.htm>.

May 28, 2012

F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald
At the end of the book I'm left feeling there was much I missed. Fitzgerald's writing can be very subtle, sometimes fiercely poetic, but if you don't pay attention a hint or human emotion will pass and come back to haunt with significance.

The story centers around Jay Gatsby an ambitious, mysterious fellow who calls everyone 'old sport.' He stands out amid the other characters as the only one with a purpose: a naive ideal of reliving the past.

"He had come a long way to this lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him. "

What drives him is a strong love for Daisy, now Tom Buchanan's wife. It's irony that when Daisy takes the wheel she runs into what will bind her to Tom for the rest of her days: guilt.

There's an air of despondence and disquiet from the beginning. The sense that their society has a shallow undercurrent; they don't know how to live or enjoy life. They just float along, which encapsulates what's been coined as 'the lost generation.'

Daisy represses her development as a character. She is often described as having a musical voice, 'full of money' but I think it must be full of potential. But she doesn't have enough strength to let it glow, she's barricaded being and doing what society expects. She puts on a show and enjoys the limelight it gives her.

She knows there's more to life, but doesn't do anything to find out what. Gatsby tries to show her and encourage her, but even his outlook is skewed, missing a level of morality.  She was never fully committed and after his death she's like a snuffed out candle, hardening back into how she was before the fire.

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made

The narrator, Nick Carraway, is the only one who sees and changes and throws his care for society away. Perhaps a hidden message in his last name?

May 22, 2012

Book Shopping

You can just make out the bookshop in the background
Photo © Katherine Cox
It may surprise many of my readers that I own very few books. Libraries and GirleBooks have been my main resources, but there's this little independent bookshop I went into and bought To Kill a Mockingbird from last month.

It's just like a bookstore ought to be: small but well-selected stock, nice people, and that general aura that makes you feel comfortable and free to meander the shelves. The Classics are grouped together in a corner with a humble ottoman nearby and I found myself going in again.


This week I've added three more books to my collection: Uncle Tom's Cabin, Sherlock Holmes, and The Great Gatsby. I've made a promise to collect slowly and, going forward, only buy one after I've finished reading one. It's so nice to own a book you know you're going to read again, to have it in perfect condition, without the wrinkles or stains library books sometimes have, and in a small way help support a bookstore.

Happily there are still many beautiful printed books being made: I love Vintage's collections, Hesperus Press, Penguin's cloth-bound editions, and Persephone are all on my wish-list!

My collection
I love the different papers publishers use and the different fonts give each book their own stamp. When I pick up The Great Gatsby it has a lightly textured book cover, and my Vintage Keats is smooth with a whitish gray paper.

Does that mean I'll stop going to the library or buying eBooks? No, the library will be my 'second shelf'-- the one I go to when something new is out and maybe I just want to read it once.

And eBooks, sometimes there's a rare book that you can only find on GoogleBooks and even though the formatting isn't the best its better than not being able to read it at all! The internet has given us the largest library possible!

What are your book habits? Do you have a large collection? What kind of books? Do you buy them online or go into a store? Do you have a favorite book store?

Jan 4, 2012

George Eliot - Briefly

George Eliot - Mary Ann Evans
 Born November 22, 1819

Lived for a while in London at 
4 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea

Wrote:
Adam Bede, 1859
The Mill on the Floss, 1860
Silas Marner, 1861
Romola, 1863
Felix Holt, the Radical, 1866
Middlemarch, 1872
Daniel Deronda, 1876


Charles Dickens - Briefly

Charles Dickens
Born February 7th 1812

Portrait painted by William Powell Frith

Between 1837-1839 he lived at

48 Doughty Street
Camden Town, London
Photo © Matt Brown
During which time Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, and The Pickwick Papers were being published in monthly serials. The home is now the Charles Dickens Museum.

Dec 5, 2011

Bubbles, painted by John Everett Millais

Bubbles are playful and mesmerizing, but in 17th Century Dutch art they conveyed a serious meaning; the fragility of life. Peter Sion used them in his still life below. The hourglass, pocket-watch, wilting flowers, and extinguishing candle all allude to what the skull blatantly implies; death.

Vanitas Still Life, Peter Sion

But looking at Millais darling painting, originally titled, A Child's World can the subject really be the same? Although its likely the majority of Victorians only saw the charm and innocence on the surface (as I originally did) there are clues in the painting that imply it is. On each side of the boy are pots. One has a growing plant, fresh and green. The other is broken, empty with crisp leaves and some twigs on the ground near it.

Bubbles, by John Everett Millais

The little curly haired sitter was Millais grandson, who later grew up to be Admiral Sir William Milbourne James. He is gazing at the bubble which teeters between the two sides. When scarlet fever was a greatly feared illness and took the lives of many children, it's possible the painting implies how even at such a tender age life is just as delicate.

Detail

Pears' Soap later purchased the original painting and copyright. There's some conflicting information whether Millais was consulted or not but a little bar of soap was added in reproductions used for advertisement. For which he was harshly critisized by Marie Corelli:

I am one of those who think the fame of Millais as an artist was marred when he degraded himself to the level of painting the little green boy blowing bubbles of Pears' soap. That was an advertisement. And that very incident in his career, trifling though it seems, will prevent his ever standing on the same dignified height of distinction with such masters in art as Romney, Sir Peter Lely, Gainsborough, and Reynolds.

The company were within their legal rights and while it caused some controversy, Millais accepted it; he really couldn't do otherwise. The painting became so well-known that the little sitter was nicknamed 'Bubbles' within the Navy.


Knowing it's background I do still like the painting. But where before I saw his gaze at the bubble as fascination I now percieve a bit of anxiety. I think it's interesting that Millais chose to attire him in costume, it looks perhaps 16th century?


What do you think of the painting? Has knowing it's history and symbolism altered your view of it too?

Sources


"John Everett Millais's "Bubbles" and the Commercialization of Art." The Victorian Web: An Overview. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Dec. 2011. <http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/corelli/kuehn6.html>.  

"Liverpool museums - 'Bubbles' , by Sir John Everett Millais | Artwork of the Month ." Liverpool museums - National Museums Liverpool. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Dec. 2011. <http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/picture-of-month/displaypicture.asp?venue=7&id=299>.

Nov 4, 2011

Announcing: A Classics Challenge

The Challenge

Read seven works of Classic Literature in 2012
Only three of the seven may be re-reads

How Does it Work?

I've organized this challenge to work a little like a blog hop. I hope this will make it more interactive and enjoyable for everyone.

Instead of writing a review as you finish each book (of course, you can do that too), visit November's Autumn on the 4th of each month from January 2012 - December 2012.

You will find a prompt, it will be general enough that no matter which Classic you're reading or how far into it, you will be able to answer. There will be a form for everyone to link to their post. I encourage everyone to read what other participants have posted.

  • What if I'm still reading the same book as last month? That's ok!
  • What if I'm not reading something for this challenge during one of the months? You can choose to either skip that prompt or answer about the Classic you've most recently read.

Join the Challenge

Anyone who loves to read and has a blog is invited
You can join at anytime

  1. Write a post on your blog with a list of the seven works you hope to read in 2012 and why you chose them-- but don't feel bound by the list. 
  2. Please include a link back to this page in your post, so others can learn about the challenge and join us. 
  3. Fill out the form at the bottom, linking to your post.
  4. Check back on the 4th of each month.

If you need a little help choosing what to read, Wikipedia has a few lists here.
If you have any questions please let me know!

Participants


Oct 14, 2011

About Anne Bronte, part one - Upbringing

74 Market Street in Thornton, the birthplace of Anne
Photo © Paul Glazzard
Born January 17, 1820 Anne was the youngest of the Bronte family. Her Irish father, Patrick, came from a humble peasant background but rose through self-education until he won a place at St. John's College in Cambridge where he studied the ministry.

Her mother Maria Bramwell came from a comfortable merchant family and after the death of her parents had gone to help her Aunt Jane and Uncle John at a new Methodist school, Woodhouse Grove [photo].

Patrick Bronte was invited to serve as an examiner at the school. His determination and intelligence and her industrious nature struck a chord with each-other and they married three months later.

Their family is something of a literary legend. They had six children, Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Bramwell, Emily, and Anne. Shortly after Anne's birth the Rev. Bronte took a stable position as perpetual curate of Haworth Parsonage.

Among the wild landscape they settled into what remained their home for life albeit one where they would experience many hardships. The first being the illness of their mother, it's believed she suffered from cancer.

Her sister Elizabeth came to nurse her and help the family. The Rev. must have been tormented at the possibility of losing all his family when the children contracted Scarlet Fever. They survived, but their mother did not.

Aunt Elizabeth was a stern lady who seemed to have rarely shown tenderness to any except Anne, who was her favorite. Perhaps this would played a role in the friction Charlotte seemed to harbor over Anne.

Haworth Parsonage, the Bronte home
Photo © Daily Mail
In 1824 the four elder daughters were sent to school in Lancashire. Maria and Elizabeth contracted TB and died of consumption. The Rev. quickly removed Charlotte and Emily from the school and decided to educate them at home for the time being.

Although only four, the loss of her sisters left a great void. It affected Charlotte and Emily deeply. But she was an astute little girl, it's said one day when her father asked her what a child wanted most she answered "age and experience."

The moors near Haworth
Photo © Rob Glover
One year Bramwell was given a set of toy soldiers, which they named the twelves and created a country in Africa called Angria. Creating maps and watercolors of landscapes.

They invented characters and stories of the people who lived there. When Anne was about eleven she and Emily broke away from Angria and created another place, Gondal. The two were inseparable:

... bound up in their lives and interests like twins. The former from reserve, the latter from timidity, avoided all friendships and intimacies beyond their sisters.
Emily was impervious to influence; she never came in contact with public opinion, and her own decision of what was right and fitting was a law for her conduct and appearance, with which she allowed no one to interfere. Her love was poured out on Anne, as Charlotte's was on her.
- Elizabeth Gaskell's The Life of Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte in turn spent much time with Bramwell, but was then sent to Roe Head school where she later became a teacher, her salary mostly paying for Emily to now study there. It was a hard transition for Emily. As her writing later implied she was a person of extreme emotions and the turmoil of her homesickness made her physically ill. She was brought back home and Anne sent in her place.


Mar 8, 2013

Trying to Understand Bronte & Twain on Austen

Charlotte Bronte
She no more, with her mind’s eye, beholds the heart of her race than each man, with bodily vision sees the heart in his heaving breast. Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete, and rather insensible ( not senseless) woman; if this is heresy- I cannot help it. - Charlotte Bronte
In Mark Twain's autobiography (which I haven't read but Adam at Roof Beam Reader quotes here) he mentions reading Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Bronte read those famous works as well as Emma. 

With Sense and Sensibility I can imagine Bronte was irritated that Marianne married Colonel Brandon (many people still are). She probably thought Marianne simply feigned her passionate feelings or would have remained true to John Willoughby's memory even though he was so terrible to her. In Emma the slow and steady realization of her love for Mr. Knightley and Harriet's love for Mr. Martin, which yielded to Emma's matchmaking, was something else she couldn't understand. But what of Pride and Prejudice?
I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone. - Mark Twain
Reading Pride and Prejudice puts a frame of mind to be amused at people's foibles and quirks. It's certainly better to laugh off an rude moment instead of letting it get to you but I think it annoyed Twain and Bronte to look at characters in this light. Austen's genius is so great that its easy to dull the sharpness of her pen; It gave us that satirical tone we so admire. It certainly wouldn't be right to judge others with the same harsh scrutiny. Patronizing others with a smirk is certainly just as bad as patronizing in the manner of Lady Catherine?
She makes me detest all her people, without reserve. Is that her intention? It is not believable. Then is it her purpose to make the reader detest her people up to the middle of the book and like them in the rest of the chapters? That could be. That would be high art. It would be worth while, too. Some day I will examine the other end of her books and see. - Mark Twain
Victorians, while known for their society's hypocrisy, had many writers who tried to use their talents to improve society: Beecher Stowe, Gaskell, Eliot to name a few. Bronte created very independent heroines who didn't think of marriage the way the Bennet's do. They made their own living. Maybe this is another reason she held the novel in contempt. Mrs. Bennet may put on a show of 'her nerves' but instead of being annoyed or using them for sport as Mr. Bennet does why not help improve her character?-- Admittedly some may argue he may have already tried. But the same may be said of each 'stray' Bennet sister. Mary with her inability to be herself, she's always trying to be a distorted ideal of what she imagines is perfect, which she neither has the talent nor understanding to be, she's just as silly as the others. Why does no one tell her she doesn't sing well? Why doesn't anyone just tell these characters and try to help them?
"For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?" - Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?” -George Eliot's Middlemarch
 --Now, the story wouldn't be the same if they had but this lack of care for each other; of character fashioning like in Alcott's Little Women to all but Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Maybe that's another reason it irritated Bronte and Twain? To whom earnestness (and emotion in former's case) was living. Tongue-in-cheek and all in good fun, yet it's safe to say compassion towards humanity is not the first thought immediately associated with Austen. Biting wit? Most definitely. She recognizes her naughty self and warns against it in Emma:
Emma could not resist. "Ah! ma'am, but there may be a difficulty. Pardon me, but you will be limited as to number -- only three at once."
Miss Bates, deceived by the mock ceremony of her manner, did not immediately catch her meaning; but, when it burst on her, it could not anger, though a slight blush showed that it could pain her.

But here's the crucial turning point: 

While the characters in the novels suffer from this lack, readers who find traits of themselves in those characters one would rather not be, correct themselves. As Virginia Woolf said:
"[Austen was] a mistress of much deeper emotion than appears on the surface. She stimulates us to supply what is not there... And she educates her readers."
Charlotte Bronte and Mark Twain missed something with Austen's novels. While they each deal with society and marriage, they have very different tones (Mansfield Park is my personal favorite). But it's her characters which are the life of the novel, some we know so well we could guess how they would react in different situations, which must be one of the reasons so many sequels and spin-offs are available. In many cases perhaps we look up to her heroines or the author herself? Novels help us understand ourselves, others, and make us try to become better people-- as well as amuse us. How many times while reading have you found yourself smile or laugh? or read a few more chapters when you really needed to stop and do such-and-such a duty?

If, dear reader,  I leave you in any doubt as to my own feelings about Austen's works simply put: who else but a Janeite would bother writing such a post?

Feb 16, 2013

I Have Been Meme


{Reading}
Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell, halfway point.
Swann's Way by Marcel Proust, into the second chapter.

{Writing}
Attempting to write a biography-- it's going very slowly but surely.
Also still working on my project of vignettes/sketches.

{Looking}
At the Persephone Books catalogue, I think I'll soon be ordering more of Dorothy Whipple's works I very much liked her writing style: understated but effective.

{Listening}
Ludovico Einaudi's Ancora
Thomas Newman's Spring

{Watching}
Finished the 2nd season of BBC's The Hour. Coincidentally the last time I filled this meme I'd been watching the 1st season. 

{Feeling}
Thankful.

{Anticipating}
The Spring! Flowers are budding around town and its so nice to see daylight lingering. The season also means more walks and chances to go see the sunset, at this moment by the time I get out of work it's twilight.

{Loving}
The day. Simple pleasures.


Feb 11, 2013

Reading Check-In: Gaskell's Mary Barton

Going Home at Dusk, by John Atkinson Grimshaw
Death and sorrows keep Mary Barton in something of a shadow and many have criticized it for being very Victorian in it's sensibilities but even the some of Elizabeth Gaskell's contemporaries wrote it would have benefited from some light. She herself was in such a dark mood after the death of her infant son due to scarlet
fever, in one of her letters she wrote:
The greater part of the first volume was written when I was obliged to lie down constantly on the sofa, and when I took refuge in the invention to exclude the memory of painful scenes which would force themselves upon my remembrance. It is no wonder then that the whole book seems to be written in the minor key;
Others deemed it was one-sided and many masters were outraged:
“Half the masters here a bitterly angry with me-- half (and the best half) are buying it to give to their work-people’s libraries."
I'm about halfway and, yes, there have been many tragedies and deaths, while they could seem unrealistic Mary Barton takes place around the 'hungry forties' when potato crops were blighted-- the working class survived on potatoes and oatmeal. We also have to bear in mind that Manchester was extremely over-populated, over a few decades the number had more than doubled and it wasn't designed to sustain so many, resulting in appalling living conditions which in turn brought disease and cholera. Her prose isn't as well-developed as by the time she writes Ruth but her warmth of feeling creates some beautiful passages:
He wondered if any in all the hurrying crowd had come from such a house of mourning. he thought they all looked joyous, and he was angry with them. But he could not, you cannot, read the lot of those who daily pass you by in the street. How do you know the wild romances of their lives; the trials, the temptations they are even now enduring, resisting, sinking under?
I've managed to avoid spoilers despite the fact I've been researching about Gaskell but one thing I have learned is she wrote it with the title of John Barton (Mary's father) it was only at her publisher's insistence that it was changed. I'm not yet convinced the portrayal of the masters is so one-sided Jem Wilson's employer seems just but there could be something pivotal I've yet to read with regards to that part of the story.

Mary's just reached the point where she makes a discovery about her vanity and feelings and I'm curious to see how everything will play out although I'm nervous about Mr. Carson who was trifling with Mary in the beginning and now is angered by her rejection of him. It's so nice to see Jem's steadiness at work and responsibility towards his family, he is a good character. John Barton hasn't been the same since his disappointment with parliament and is wasting away at the lack of employment, partly because there are few positions and he isn't hired for them because of his involvement with the union. There's a sense that all his pent-up energy is going to burst.

Feb 3, 2013

Reading Check-In: A Gaskell Mood

Right now I'm focused on non-fiction reads related to the Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell. Her writings are varied, from the industrial and gritty novels like Mary Barton and North and South.

To her charming everyday tales like Wives and Daughters and her most recognized work Cranford. I've always been drawn to her writing and interested in her life so this year I'm working on what I'm calling my Gaskell Project of really getting to know her better.

One of the books is about the Cheshire town of Knutsford, where she grew up. It's written by a local who was recognized for both her historical knowledge of it and Gaskell: Joan Leach, who passed away the day after Gaskell's bicentenary celebrations in 2010. It's filled with old photographs and some engravings.

Jenny Uglow's biography A Habit of Stories is another. I'd referenced it a great deal before but never read it through. Haven't reached too far into it-- about a quarter of the way, but I'm enjoying the details of her family and those around her. It's also lovely to see a color version of the miniature of Gaskell's Aunt Hannah Lumb, who raised her.

My favorite of the pile is The Letters of Mrs. Gaskell. It was an exciting find, published in the1960s (although there is a more recent edition) it contains a collection of her letters to friends and her daughter Marianne.What can be more charming than reading her own words and special turns of phrases? The anecdotes of her experiences and personalities of those around her.

As I read them I feel she's becoming a friend. Although it's a larger volume it's only a handful in comparison to the thousands she must have written during her lifetime. It's believed her other daughter Meta may have burnt many in a bonfire ...remind anyone else of Cassandra Austen? Others were destroyed during the World Wars. Further Letters of Mrs. Gaskell leaves some hope though, with some more which have been uncovered.

This afternoon when I checked my mail box I found Yvonne Ffrench's biography waiting. I'd previously read it at the Seattle library a few years back and am glad to have my own copy. From what I remember it's short and slightly critical of her writing, contrasting her with George Eliot. Barbara Brill's At Home with Elizabeth Gaskell and Winifred Gerin's biography are also on their way. I've seen the latter mentioned as one of the best out there so I'm curious to read it!

Nov 30, 2012

Ramblings on Howard's End by E.M. Forster

Gaugin
The only permanence in the novel is Howard’s End, a place which has a pivotal effect towards all the characters. Even though the main setting is in London, it’s presence is felt throughout. The Wilcox’s wrongfully keep the home after Mrs. Ruth Wilcox passes. She wrote a note in pencil that she wished her friend, Margaret Schlegel, to have it. Despite that none of the family want to live there and feel it’s outdated they value it as a piece of property and don’t feel right parting with it to a stranger.

The Schlegel’s are very different from the Wilcox’s.They have an appreciation for the arts and for emotions. They challenge their thoughts and look at other points of view, associating with diverse people– they want to know life beyond the norm of society. Margaret, Helen, and Tibby each are very different individuals; they have their own personalities and interests.

Margaret has a strong backbone, she’s witty, understanding and thoughtful. Helen’s wild, impulsive, and passionate. Tibby doesn’t try to impress anyone and is not worldly ambitious, he studies what he finds interesting and works very hard at it.

The Wilcox’s struggle is to stay within the norm. They suppress emotion, seeing it as a weakness and are determined to be successful in the material world. Those in the family share common characteristics, very little differentiates them from one-another.

Margaret had often wondered at the disturbance that takes place in the world’s waters when Love, who seems so tiny a pebble, slips in. Whom does love concern beyond the beloved and the lover? Yet his impact deluges a hundred shores.

What really intrigued me is how and if Margaret Schlegel could care for Mr. Henry Wilcox. The same might be said for Ruth. Was it his vulnerability, which only they saw, that was part of his attraction? The worldly comfort? or just the desire of marriage? It’s not because he’s flawed that I fail to grasp the two’s choice of husband but because their minds and spirits and so dissimilar to his.

Gaugin
Ruth and Margaret both have very sensitive souls, although Margaret’s more forward-thinking. But they both marry this man who doesn’t try to understand himself, doesn’t really have independent thoughts– just stands with what he’s been brought up to do and think. He seems imperceptive to humanity and the side of the world which Margaret really is a part of.

Helen and Mr. Wilcox were both tangled in adulterous affairs– they both crossed the boundaries of Edwardian morality but where Helen recognizes this, Mr. Wilcox refuses it. He was married to Ruth. Leonard Bast was married to Jacky. Jacky Bast was Mr. Wilcox’s mistress years ago. When he learns of Helen’s pregnancy he refuses to let her stay at Howard’s End. She has done wrong.

That he did the same thing can’t be admitted. Margaret tries to make him face his hypocrisy but he keeps it buried under unrelenting denial. He wants to portray himself as the ‘model gentleman’ and because this illusion has been broken and Margaret knows the truth it’s the end of their marriage. He doesn’t forgive himself nor anyone else, even though as humans we cannot be perfect.

Helen’s moment with Leonard might have been her way of showing him they are equals. While Mr. Wilcox sees his previous affair as degrading, he never saw Jacky as an equal. He leaves Jacky stranded without a care for her welfare. Leonard sticks by his promise to marry her and is cut off from his family. He feels responsibility. Something Helen chides Mr. Wilcox for his lack of. Especially when his information about the Porphyrion causes a lot of problems for the Basts.

Gaugin
Leonard really wants to improve himself but in the beginning he forces it too much. When he plays a bit of Grieg on the piano, it’s described as harsh and vulgar. I think Forster means Leonard doesn’t understand the piece and plays it tempestuously thinking, perhaps that he’ll feel more– convey more and forgets the nuances, the contrasts of the piece, and probably technique.

He has great fear of his own ignorance and when he first meets the Schlegels all he can do is be silent and wary. He fails to discern they wouldn’t judge him harshly but be intrigued by his eagerness.

When he goes out for his all-night walk he begins to realize that the true greatness of culture isn’t always analyzing or comparing but having those works influence his life, inspire him to transcend beyond his daily routine.

Mr. Wilcox with all of his wealth and privileges doesn’t come to this realization. But he begins to sense the imbalance of how he interprets life after he’s broken by the scandal of his son’s actions which hurry on Leonard’s end.

Done because of a belief that he must defend Helen’s honor, another erroneous assumption because it was probably Helen who seduced Leonard– but Mr. Wilcox is taken into Margaret’s wing and the ending leaves a sense that maybe he will understand. Surrounded as he is now by Margaret, Helen, and Helen’s son. Learning along with the child?

Memorable Quotes

What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives? They have never entered into mine, but into yours, we thought–Haven’t we all to struggle against life’s daily greyness, against pettiness, against mechanical cheerfulness, against suspicion? I struggle by remembering my friends; others I have known by remembering some place–some beloved place or tree–we thought you one of these.
Charles and Tibby met at Ducie Street, where the latter was staying. Their interview was short and absurd. They had nothing in common but the English language, and tried by its help to express what neither of them understood.

Nov 3, 2012

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

Maggie Tulliver breaks the mold of the ideal Victorian child, she’s impulsive, prone to accidents, has her own opinions, and is quite a contrast to her fair-haired and obedient cousin Lucy. She wants to please but pleasing her mother means being passive– she isn’t. 

In one scene after she’s chided by the dreaded Aunts about her hair, a perpetual trouble to her, she goes upstairs and cuts it. Her father lovingly calls her ‘the little wench.’ He recognizes her quickness and admires her bold ways and opinions but knows she’s restricted by the domestic expectations of her era.

I think there are stores laid up in our human nature that our understandings can make no complete inventory of. Certain strains of music affect me so strangely— I can never hear them without their changing my whole attitude of mind for a time, and if the effect would last, I might be capable of heroisms.

When she grows up and tries to suppress her passionate nature the writing begins to blossom. Maggie’s very perceptive to emotions. She wants to be loved wholeheartedly, unconditionally. The pure unwavering love of her brother Tom is the foundation she’s longed for but he’s often abrupt, cynical, or irritated by her intelligence.

Phillip Wakem’s devotion to her is like a balm to her hope but it matures into a romantic love that Maggie doesn’t reciprocate. She realizes this when she meets Stephen Guest. There’s a mutual attraction but he is engaged to her cousin Lucy.


Divided between her emotions and conscience, she feels trapped. How can she hurt Phillip and Lucy? If she marries Stephen, she will betray Lucy and deeply hurt Phillip. But her reasoning is flawed. How can her cousin Lucy’s happiness be secured by a man that doesn’t love her? 

Maggie would scorn such a marriage herself and if she looked deeper she’d realize that’s the position she’s in with Phillip. She fears deceiving and betraying Lucy but she’s doing so by wanting Stephen to continue their engagement. It’s contradictory and torments her.

If she marries Phillip, Tom will never be part of her life because there’s a deep tangled history between the Wakems and Tullivers. Tom won’t let go of a wrong oath his father pressed him to against the Wakems, he becomes hard, stubborn, and prejudiced.

He’s focused on bringing material comfort back to his family (and does a successful job of it) but is ignorant to the beauty of emotions and culture, they are suppressed and set aside– useless, like geometry and Latin from his school days, he finds them impractical. He closes his heart and his world becomes tragically narrowed.

If you were in fault ever— if you had done anything very wrong, I should be sorry for the pain it brought you; I should not want punishment to be heaped on you… You have no pity: you have no sense of your own imperfections and your own sins. It is a sin to be hard; it is not fitting for a mortal— for a Christian. You are nothing but a Pharisee… You have not even a vision of feelings by the side of which your shining virtues are mere darkness!

Worse, he doesn’t stop to think below the surface of his sister’s actions– doesn’t try to understand or comfort her, only judges. It’s not until Maggie comes with tremendous effort to save him during the the flood that he realizes his error and wakens.

Tom is presented with shadows of another side to him but they’re shapeless. What feelings were being suppressing? It’s implied he’s in love with Lucy. Was part of his wrath towards Maggie because she’d hurt Lucy?

I struggled with the idea of Stephen as Maggie’s romantic interest, his character is like a means to an end in the plot, we know so little of him. He’s witty, and handsome but reaps from people for his own happiness and thinks little of anyone else’s.

Maggie’s emotions are so fragile, teetering on the extremes. She would have been a fabulous poet and I wish she’d such an outlet to help her inner turmoil. Maybe that is part of the point Eliot tries to make?

It’s not a romantic love she needs to find fulfillment but an accepting love and a purpose. St Ogg’s is constricting, not because it’s small and in the country, but because she’s smothered by expectations for her to be ordinary.

Few appreciate her individuality. Phillip did, but his love for her became a source of anxiety because she didn’t want to hurt him. To think, how different the story could have been had Maggie a true friend who wanted nothing.

I prefer character-driven writing but had difficulty with The Mill on the Floss, it’s overall tone was a deep-rooted melancholy. The kind that permeates the novel and leaves little room for hope and whenever there was a glimmer it quickly faded.

Memorable Quotes


There was no indulgence, no fondness, such as she had imagined when she fashioned the world afresh in her own thoughts. In books people were always agreeable or tender, and delighted to do things that made one happy, and who did not show their kindness by finding fault. The world outside the books was not a happy one, Maggie felt; it seemed to be a world where people behaved the best to those they did not pretend to love, and that did not belong to them. And if life had no love in it, what else was there for Maggie?
Does not a supreme poet blend light and sound into one, calling darkness mute, and light eloquent? Something strangely powerful there was in the light of Stephen’s long gaze, for it made Maggie’s face turn towards it and look upward at it—- slowly, like a flower at the ascending brightness. And they walked unsteadily on, without feeling that they were walking—- without feeling anything but that long grave mutual gaze which has the solemnity belonging to all deep human passion. The hovering thought that they must and would renounce each other made this moment of mute confession more intense in its rapture.

Oct 6, 2012

Parade's End, by Ford Madox Ford

Parade's End is unlike anything I've read before. On so many different levels Ford Madox Ford's book is etched in my memory. It's truly a masterpiece. Weeks after I've finished, it's lingered. As I'm out for a walk my mind wanders to it.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Christopher Tietjens
It has a rich plot, there are so many nuances. The scenes are often explored from more than one point of view so you get to know the characters on a more intimate level and with each perspective you learn more about either their history or a piece of the plot left out earlier; it's non-linear.

Christopher Tietjens has the courage to say exactly what he thinks and feels under no obligation to take nonsense in the sense of gossip and society-- Let people say what they will about himself; He doesn't pretend with anyone.

He's a true gentleman, the kindest character, intelligent and noble but because of misunderstandings and the selfish motives of some contemporaries he's thought of as disreputable.

He has great inner strength and is a gentle old soul. But he is very protective of the reputation of those he loves or is under obligation to, like his wife the beautiful and brazen Sylvia. He feels it's his duty to continue in their parade of marriage.

Rebecca Hall as Sylvia Tietjens
Sylvia's determination is uncontrollable. She's 'clumsily' in love with her husband:
It was all very well to say that every one of Sylvia’s eccentricities had in view the sole aim of getting her boy’s father to return to her. No doubt they might be. He... was perfectly ready to concede that even her infidelities, notorious as they had been, might have been merely ways of calling his unfortunate brother’s attention back to her —of keeping herself in his mind.
After the marriage Christopher, finding out that he had been a mere catspaw, probably treated her pretty coldly or ignored her —maritally… And he was a pretty attractive fellow, Christopher... A regular saint and Christian martyr and all that… Enough to drive a woman wild if she had to live beside him and be ignored.
She's reckless in her love for him and doesn't know how to show it, partially because her first romance was with the brutish Drake.

She reduces herself to stratagems and with Christopher's grand breadth of knowledge she feels at a disadvantage-- something very rare for her.

Valentine Wannop has the same boldness of spirit as Sylvia but puts it to a different use. She's active in promoting woman's rights, a suffragette. She nurtures and encourages.

Adelaide Clemmens as Valentine Wannop
There's a mutual attraction between her and Christopher; They're intellectual equals. That's not to say Sylvia is less sharp or quick, but their minds are dissimilar, they think in different languages.Valentine understands his fluently.
“It was no good anymore, he said to himself. She loved him, he knew, with a deep, and unshakable passion, just as his passion for her was a devouring element that covered his whole mind as the atmosphere envelopes the earth.”
But Christopher feels he cannot divorce Sylvia, no honorable gentleman would. And he is torn between what he feels is his duty and acting for his own happiness. Admist this love triangle WWI begins and we witness the kinks of the logistics and the imagery which only a veteran could describe:
It had just announced itself, saying protestingly , ‘CAN…NON’, and its shell soaring away to an enormous height caught the reflection of the unrisen sun on its base. A shining disc, like a halo in flight… Pretty! A pretty motive for a decoration, tiny pretty planes up on a blue sky amongst shiny, flying haloes! Dragonflies amongst saints.
There are many aspects of the books I haven't even touched but I'm so grateful to Tom Stoppard for adapting it, otherwise I may not have come across this beautiful work. I'm looking forward to watching the BBC/HBO production sometime when it airs (in the US) next year.

Sep 20, 2012

Reading Check-In - Classics Club

It's a beautiful morning, there's a delicate fog and one of the trees outside my window is dotted with yellowing leaves; Autumn is arriving. I've just enjoyed a nice breakfast of Earl Grey and fresh toast with fig marmalade.

Fog Morning Effect, by  Gustave Loiseau
Before I leave for work I will sit in my chair and read a bit of my next Classic but first here's an overview of what I've read since May in the style of Jackie.

Past: The Great Gatsby and Parade's End. I've unconsciously stepped into early 20th century literature the past few months, which has been refreshing-- I've been firmly in the 19th for a long while. I'm rather infatuated with Ford Madox Ford's writing.

Present: Moby Dick. Joining in on The Moby Dick Big Read, a 136 day project. The Mill on the Floss, which I began a few months ago and set aside for Parade's End... poor George Eliot that's the second book of hers I've done that to, but don't misunderstand me I really liked Maggie Tulliver's character and the book so far! Also making my way through a collection of Sherlock Holmes.

Future: The Fifth Queen and Villette. The Autumn seems the perfect time to re-read Bronte's Villette.

Willows in Fog, Gustave Loiseau

Aug 19, 2012

More Books

My mother and I went downtown and started the day at a nice cafe with a light Organic cappuccino then meandered about the local boutiques chatting and window shopping. Of course I had to stop at the bookstore and whilst there Scoop by Evelyn Waugh caught my eye: "ingenious, satirical, extremely funny" ...a promising description, I opened to a random page and read:

After an early luncheon William went to say goodbye to his grandmother. She looked at him with doleful, mad eyes. "Going to London, eh? Well, I hardly suppose I shall be alive when you return. Wrap up warm, dear." It was eternal Winter in Mrs. Boot's sunny bedroom.

My latest books: Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida,
Waugh's Scoop, and Ford's Parade's End. Photo © Katherine Cox
I like the sound of it! Mrs. Boot seems like a character Maggie Smith would play, with perhaps a dash of Austen's Mr. Woodhouse thrown into the mix? And I happily walked out with my new purchase. I've added five more books to my collection over the few months.

Troilus and Cressida drew my attention in Masterpiece's recent Inspector Lewis episode where they mention the play. I hadn't heard of this piece by Shakespeare before and have been wanting to add something by the dear Bard of Avon to my library.

Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End is wonderfully complex. It's stimulating and next to Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, is the only other modernist work I've read. Tender is the Night and Eliot's The Mill on the Floss are my other additions (not pictured above). I'm very happy with how my little library is shaping up. 

Aug 12, 2012

Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford

Parade’s End is unlike anything I’ve read before. On so many different levels Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy is etched in my memory; It’s truly a masterpiece. Weeks after I’ve finished, it’s lingered. As I’m out for a walk my mind wanders to it.



It has a rich plot, there are so many nuances. The scenes are often explored from more than one point of view so you get to know the characters on a more intimate level and with each perspective you learn more about either their history or a piece of the plot left out earlier; it’s non-linear.


Christopher Tietjens has the courage to say exactly what he thinks and feels under no obligation to take the nonsense of gossip and society– Let people say what they will about himself; He doesn’t pretend with anyone. He’s a true gentleman, intelligent, and noble but because of misunderstandings and the selfish motives of some of his contemporaries he’s thought of as disreputable.

He’s a mathematician working in statistics for the civil service, with his good friend Vincent Macmaster. Macmaster has good intentions, he truly appreciates and admires Christopher’s friendship and talents but is swayed by a desire to build an identity which would give him recognition in the upper echelons of society. He craves it!


Tietjens sees beyond what people tell him. He’s not intimidated or awed by titles and positions. He doesn’t perform, only voicing his views when he wants to, not at dinner parties to impress but he’s bound himself in a marriage that has scarred him, particularly the realization that his child may not be his. In defense he’s coiled-in his emotions; suppressed them.
It was a sort of parade of circumspection and rightness.
He’s an old soul who feels he should live by the codes of the 18th century and is protective towards the reputation of those he loves or feels obligation to, like his wife the beautiful and brazen Sylvia. It’s his duty to continue in their parade of marriage.



Sylvia is ‘clumsily’ in love, if love is the right word sometimes it seems to be possession or guilt, her determination is uncontrollable. She’s reckless and doesn’t know how to show her love. Reducing herself to stratagems and with Christopher’s grand breadth of knowledge she feels at a disadvantage– something very rare for her.

She describes him as a lump and becomes impatient with him because either she can’t read him and what he’s thinking or she can and is infuriated at his controlled rein on his emotions. Tigerish with a manipulative edge, her one vulnerability seems to be how much she thrives on emotions and impulses. She has an inner rage towards his unerring propriety.


Valentine Wannop has the same boldness of spirit as Sylvia but puts it to a different use. She’s active in promoting woman’s rights and nurtures and encourages. There’s a mutual attraction between her and Christopher, they’re intellectual equals.

That’s not to say Sylvia is less sharp or quick, but their minds are dissimilar, they think in different languages. Valentine understands his fluently. Like Tietjens, she doesn’t play the game of society, she’s frank and genuine.


It was no good anymore, he said to himself. She loved him, he knew, with a deep, and unshakable passion, just as his passion for her was a devouring element that covered his whole mind as the atmosphere envelopes the earth.
He’s actually quite poetic in his thoughts and Valentine re-awakens his sentimentality but he is very honorable and despite his feelings holds back. Christopher can’t divorce Sylvia, no honorable gentleman would put a lady through the rigmarole of the courts and scandal.



He is torn between what he feels is his duty and acting for his own happiness. Amidst this love triangle WWI begins and we witness the kinks of the logistics and the imagery which only a veteran could describe.


Memorable Quotes

Actually, this mist was not silver, or was, perhaps, no longer silver: if you looked at it with the eye of the artist… with the exact eye! It was smirched with bars of purple, of red, of orange, delicate reflections, dark blue shadows from the upper sky where it formed drifts like snow.
Its shell soaring away to an enormous height caught the reflection of the unrisen sun on its base. A shining disc, like a halo in flight… Pretty! A pretty motive for a decoration, tiny pretty planes up on a blue sky amongst shiny, flying haloes! Dragonflies amongst saints.
He loved this country for the run of its hills, the shape of its elm trees, and the way the heather, running uphill to the skyline, meets the blue of the heavens.

Jul 23, 2012

Reading Check-In ~ Parade's End

As I settled into the first pages I wasn't sure I was going to like Ford's writing style, his use of dialogue tags seemed a little choppy, isn't that a silly thing to condemn a writer for? Well, I was berated as I found myself bound up in his vivid language.
Guernica by Pablo Picasso
Tietjens had been staring --staring with the intentness of a maddened horse-- at his, Macmaster's face! And grey! Shapeless! The nose like a pallid triangle on a bladder of lard! That was Tietjens face... He could still feel the blow, physical in the pit of his stomach! He had thought Tietjens was going mad: that he was mad. It had passed. Tietjens had assumed the mask of his indolent, insolent self.
Picasso's art passed through my mind as I read this description. We see Christopher Tietjens torn apart, reinterpreted, and what Macmaster feels, it's what I do as I look at paintings from the cubist movement: unsettled.

Tietjens is a very interesting character with his enigmatic speeches, I can't make out if they're serious or jests... I'm pretty sure he's just trying to get a reaction. He seems very grounded but isn't afraid to cross the boundaries of convention at work. His home-life is in turmoil stemming from the infidelity of his wife Sylvia, and the knowledge that his child may not be his. You get the impression there's incredible depth to him but he's restrained.

Originally I kept confusing the author's name with
Pre-Raphaelite artist Ford Madox Brown, it turns out he
was Ford Madox Ford's namesake and maternal grandfather.
I'm only into the third chapter but Parade's End's apparent themes of marriage and infidelity put me in mind of The Forsyte Saga. I have a feeling it's going to be a very thought-provoking novel.

Jul 13, 2012

Poetry and Emotions

The first time I read Keats' Ode to a Nightingale  I sensed a quiver of something... intangible. When heard it read aloud my pulse quickened and as I recited it, the words came to life. They flow so beautifully! I felt the emotions layered within the poem.

Suddenly I was restless. The buildup of having suppressed certain feelings pushed me to try to reach a dream I've harbored and have patiently waited for the right time. I believe, it's now and really hope I can set it's wheels in motion.

The poem itself has an overall impression of longing and fear. Of wanting to flourish with inspiration and anxiety of not reaching full potential. With each reading it stays fresh, there's something I've missed: how the words work with each other, other interpretations, nuances of how they reflect what was going on in Keats' life, how they relate to mine or its dissimilarities.

I think truly great poetry awakens feelings that are tucked away; Kindles a new vitality or sensibility. Which poems have struck a chord with you? 

Jun 18, 2012

Publishing History, Keats' Ode to a Nightingale


Wentworth Place
Photo © Jonathan Brennan
Spring came earlier in 1819 and flocks of birds arrived in England some weeks before they normally do. Perhaps one was the nightingale which nested near Wentworth Place and helped inspire this great poem. It's believed to be the second of the five odes Keats composed that year, written most likely in May. His friend Charles Brown recalled that:
Video © Paul Hackett

"... Keats felt a tranquil and continual joy in her song; and one morning he took his chair from the breakfast-table to the grass plot under a plum-tree, where he sat for two or three hours."

Benjamin Haydon, another friend of Keats was given a copy, he shared it with the editor of The Annals of Fine Arts and it was published in July's edition, earning Keats a small sum.

It made a second appearance in 1820 but this time in book-format along with Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and other poems.


Sources

"Ode to a Nightingale." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 June 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ode_to_a_Nightingale>.

"Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats." EnglishHistory.net. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 June 2012. <http://englishhistory.net/keats/poetry/odetoanightingale.html>.

About John Keats, a brief bio

John Keats, by Joseph Severn
Although he died at just twenty-five John Keats created what is recognized as some of the greatest Romantic poetry. His masterpieces include Ode to a Nightingale, Ode to a Grecian Urn, Lamia, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Hyperion.

He studied at Enfield and had a "brisk and winning face... a favorite with all" but was very passionate, temperamental, and protective of his younger brother George who was also at the school.

Circumstances during his childhood were volatile. His father died in a riding accident when he was eight and his grandparents took charge of Keats and his siblings when their mother hastily remarried against the wishes of the family.

When she came back into their lives a few years later she'd contracted tuberculosis. He tenderly helped, cooking her food, administering medicine, and reading to her. Keats mourned her loss with an intense and prolonged grief. But during the reconciliation her presence encouraged him in his studies and he applied himself in literature, winning all the first prizes.

When the time came to choose a career he decided on medicine and was apprenticed and later trained at Guy's Hospital in London. Keats kept in touch with his friend from Enfield, Charles Cowden Clarke, who was also his mentor. They poured over George Chapman's translation of Homer which deeply moved Keats, he knew from this point that he wanted to be a poet. Most poets were of the genteel upper class, Keats was from the working but was determined to make a living and name for himself.

Fanny Brawne
After publishing a small book of poems, he caught the interest of John Taylor, who loved to encourage emerging talent. His firm Taylor & Hessey, publishers of London Magazine decided to pay him in advance against future works. Keats began writing Endymion with a mixture of confidence and trepidation of the high expectations he'd set for himself. But when he finished its third part was resigned


"All the good I expect from my employment this summer is the fruit of Experience which I hope to gather in my next Poem."


The critics were harsh and insulting. But it was during this time that he also met Fanny Brawne, who he fell in love with. The romance must have soothed his heart as his younger brother Tom had also succumbed to consumption and by now the symptoms were looming upon Keats' own health. But it also tormented it-- he had nothing to offer her. In a last attempt to help improve his health his friends brought him to Italy where it was hoped the warm weather would prolong his life and ease his pain.

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

Sources

Hebron, Stephen. The British Library Writers' Lives: John Keats.. s.l.: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.

"John Keats (1795-1821) : short biography." Adnax Publications. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 June 2012. <http://www.adnax.com/biogs/jk.htm>.

May 28, 2012

F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald
At the end of the book I'm left feeling there was much I missed. Fitzgerald's writing can be very subtle, sometimes fiercely poetic, but if you don't pay attention a hint or human emotion will pass and come back to haunt with significance.

The story centers around Jay Gatsby an ambitious, mysterious fellow who calls everyone 'old sport.' He stands out amid the other characters as the only one with a purpose: a naive ideal of reliving the past.

"He had come a long way to this lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him. "

What drives him is a strong love for Daisy, now Tom Buchanan's wife. It's irony that when Daisy takes the wheel she runs into what will bind her to Tom for the rest of her days: guilt.

There's an air of despondence and disquiet from the beginning. The sense that their society has a shallow undercurrent; they don't know how to live or enjoy life. They just float along, which encapsulates what's been coined as 'the lost generation.'

Daisy represses her development as a character. She is often described as having a musical voice, 'full of money' but I think it must be full of potential. But she doesn't have enough strength to let it glow, she's barricaded being and doing what society expects. She puts on a show and enjoys the limelight it gives her.

She knows there's more to life, but doesn't do anything to find out what. Gatsby tries to show her and encourage her, but even his outlook is skewed, missing a level of morality.  She was never fully committed and after his death she's like a snuffed out candle, hardening back into how she was before the fire.

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made

The narrator, Nick Carraway, is the only one who sees and changes and throws his care for society away. Perhaps a hidden message in his last name?

May 22, 2012

Book Shopping

You can just make out the bookshop in the background
Photo © Katherine Cox
It may surprise many of my readers that I own very few books. Libraries and GirleBooks have been my main resources, but there's this little independent bookshop I went into and bought To Kill a Mockingbird from last month.

It's just like a bookstore ought to be: small but well-selected stock, nice people, and that general aura that makes you feel comfortable and free to meander the shelves. The Classics are grouped together in a corner with a humble ottoman nearby and I found myself going in again.


This week I've added three more books to my collection: Uncle Tom's Cabin, Sherlock Holmes, and The Great Gatsby. I've made a promise to collect slowly and, going forward, only buy one after I've finished reading one. It's so nice to own a book you know you're going to read again, to have it in perfect condition, without the wrinkles or stains library books sometimes have, and in a small way help support a bookstore.

Happily there are still many beautiful printed books being made: I love Vintage's collections, Hesperus Press, Penguin's cloth-bound editions, and Persephone are all on my wish-list!

My collection
I love the different papers publishers use and the different fonts give each book their own stamp. When I pick up The Great Gatsby it has a lightly textured book cover, and my Vintage Keats is smooth with a whitish gray paper.

Does that mean I'll stop going to the library or buying eBooks? No, the library will be my 'second shelf'-- the one I go to when something new is out and maybe I just want to read it once.

And eBooks, sometimes there's a rare book that you can only find on GoogleBooks and even though the formatting isn't the best its better than not being able to read it at all! The internet has given us the largest library possible!

What are your book habits? Do you have a large collection? What kind of books? Do you buy them online or go into a store? Do you have a favorite book store?

Jan 4, 2012

George Eliot - Briefly

George Eliot - Mary Ann Evans
 Born November 22, 1819

Lived for a while in London at 
4 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea

Wrote:
Adam Bede, 1859
The Mill on the Floss, 1860
Silas Marner, 1861
Romola, 1863
Felix Holt, the Radical, 1866
Middlemarch, 1872
Daniel Deronda, 1876


Charles Dickens - Briefly

Charles Dickens
Born February 7th 1812

Portrait painted by William Powell Frith

Between 1837-1839 he lived at

48 Doughty Street
Camden Town, London
Photo © Matt Brown
During which time Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, and The Pickwick Papers were being published in monthly serials. The home is now the Charles Dickens Museum.

Dec 5, 2011

Bubbles, painted by John Everett Millais

Bubbles are playful and mesmerizing, but in 17th Century Dutch art they conveyed a serious meaning; the fragility of life. Peter Sion used them in his still life below. The hourglass, pocket-watch, wilting flowers, and extinguishing candle all allude to what the skull blatantly implies; death.

Vanitas Still Life, Peter Sion

But looking at Millais darling painting, originally titled, A Child's World can the subject really be the same? Although its likely the majority of Victorians only saw the charm and innocence on the surface (as I originally did) there are clues in the painting that imply it is. On each side of the boy are pots. One has a growing plant, fresh and green. The other is broken, empty with crisp leaves and some twigs on the ground near it.

Bubbles, by John Everett Millais

The little curly haired sitter was Millais grandson, who later grew up to be Admiral Sir William Milbourne James. He is gazing at the bubble which teeters between the two sides. When scarlet fever was a greatly feared illness and took the lives of many children, it's possible the painting implies how even at such a tender age life is just as delicate.

Detail

Pears' Soap later purchased the original painting and copyright. There's some conflicting information whether Millais was consulted or not but a little bar of soap was added in reproductions used for advertisement. For which he was harshly critisized by Marie Corelli:

I am one of those who think the fame of Millais as an artist was marred when he degraded himself to the level of painting the little green boy blowing bubbles of Pears' soap. That was an advertisement. And that very incident in his career, trifling though it seems, will prevent his ever standing on the same dignified height of distinction with such masters in art as Romney, Sir Peter Lely, Gainsborough, and Reynolds.

The company were within their legal rights and while it caused some controversy, Millais accepted it; he really couldn't do otherwise. The painting became so well-known that the little sitter was nicknamed 'Bubbles' within the Navy.


Knowing it's background I do still like the painting. But where before I saw his gaze at the bubble as fascination I now percieve a bit of anxiety. I think it's interesting that Millais chose to attire him in costume, it looks perhaps 16th century?


What do you think of the painting? Has knowing it's history and symbolism altered your view of it too?

Sources


"John Everett Millais's "Bubbles" and the Commercialization of Art." The Victorian Web: An Overview. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Dec. 2011. <http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/corelli/kuehn6.html>.  

"Liverpool museums - 'Bubbles' , by Sir John Everett Millais | Artwork of the Month ." Liverpool museums - National Museums Liverpool. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Dec. 2011. <http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/picture-of-month/displaypicture.asp?venue=7&id=299>.

Nov 4, 2011

Announcing: A Classics Challenge

The Challenge

Read seven works of Classic Literature in 2012
Only three of the seven may be re-reads

How Does it Work?

I've organized this challenge to work a little like a blog hop. I hope this will make it more interactive and enjoyable for everyone.

Instead of writing a review as you finish each book (of course, you can do that too), visit November's Autumn on the 4th of each month from January 2012 - December 2012.

You will find a prompt, it will be general enough that no matter which Classic you're reading or how far into it, you will be able to answer. There will be a form for everyone to link to their post. I encourage everyone to read what other participants have posted.

  • What if I'm still reading the same book as last month? That's ok!
  • What if I'm not reading something for this challenge during one of the months? You can choose to either skip that prompt or answer about the Classic you've most recently read.

Join the Challenge

Anyone who loves to read and has a blog is invited
You can join at anytime

  1. Write a post on your blog with a list of the seven works you hope to read in 2012 and why you chose them-- but don't feel bound by the list. 
  2. Please include a link back to this page in your post, so others can learn about the challenge and join us. 
  3. Fill out the form at the bottom, linking to your post.
  4. Check back on the 4th of each month.

If you need a little help choosing what to read, Wikipedia has a few lists here.
If you have any questions please let me know!

Participants


Oct 14, 2011

About Anne Bronte, part one - Upbringing

74 Market Street in Thornton, the birthplace of Anne
Photo © Paul Glazzard
Born January 17, 1820 Anne was the youngest of the Bronte family. Her Irish father, Patrick, came from a humble peasant background but rose through self-education until he won a place at St. John's College in Cambridge where he studied the ministry.

Her mother Maria Bramwell came from a comfortable merchant family and after the death of her parents had gone to help her Aunt Jane and Uncle John at a new Methodist school, Woodhouse Grove [photo].

Patrick Bronte was invited to serve as an examiner at the school. His determination and intelligence and her industrious nature struck a chord with each-other and they married three months later.

Their family is something of a literary legend. They had six children, Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Bramwell, Emily, and Anne. Shortly after Anne's birth the Rev. Bronte took a stable position as perpetual curate of Haworth Parsonage.

Among the wild landscape they settled into what remained their home for life albeit one where they would experience many hardships. The first being the illness of their mother, it's believed she suffered from cancer.

Her sister Elizabeth came to nurse her and help the family. The Rev. must have been tormented at the possibility of losing all his family when the children contracted Scarlet Fever. They survived, but their mother did not.

Aunt Elizabeth was a stern lady who seemed to have rarely shown tenderness to any except Anne, who was her favorite. Perhaps this would played a role in the friction Charlotte seemed to harbor over Anne.

Haworth Parsonage, the Bronte home
Photo © Daily Mail
In 1824 the four elder daughters were sent to school in Lancashire. Maria and Elizabeth contracted TB and died of consumption. The Rev. quickly removed Charlotte and Emily from the school and decided to educate them at home for the time being.

Although only four, the loss of her sisters left a great void. It affected Charlotte and Emily deeply. But she was an astute little girl, it's said one day when her father asked her what a child wanted most she answered "age and experience."

The moors near Haworth
Photo © Rob Glover
One year Bramwell was given a set of toy soldiers, which they named the twelves and created a country in Africa called Angria. Creating maps and watercolors of landscapes.

They invented characters and stories of the people who lived there. When Anne was about eleven she and Emily broke away from Angria and created another place, Gondal. The two were inseparable:

... bound up in their lives and interests like twins. The former from reserve, the latter from timidity, avoided all friendships and intimacies beyond their sisters.
Emily was impervious to influence; she never came in contact with public opinion, and her own decision of what was right and fitting was a law for her conduct and appearance, with which she allowed no one to interfere. Her love was poured out on Anne, as Charlotte's was on her.
- Elizabeth Gaskell's The Life of Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte in turn spent much time with Bramwell, but was then sent to Roe Head school where she later became a teacher, her salary mostly paying for Emily to now study there. It was a hard transition for Emily. As her writing later implied she was a person of extreme emotions and the turmoil of her homesickness made her physically ill. She was brought back home and Anne sent in her place.


© November's Autumn
Maira Gall